The Health Benefits of Oats (Avena Sativa)

For Lowering Cholesterol, Preventing Heart Disease, and More

Oats are harvested from the Avena sativa plant. Grown and consumed around the world, Avena sativa is linked to a wide range of health benefits, from lowering cholesterol to brightening your mood.

Avena sativa tinctures and herbal supplements aim to deliver the healthy properties of Avena sativa in a more condensed form. But perhaps the best way to benefit from the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in Avena sativa may simply be to eat more oats.

This article discusses Avena sativa parts, nutrients, and health benefits. Learn how to find a good Avena sativa tincture, how to add more oats to your diet, how to use oat bran, and more below.

Wooden spoon with oats

astasiaodor / Getty Images

What Is Avena Sativa?

Avena sativa is a highly valuable cereal grain and part of the grass family. The plant contains:

  • Seeds, which are harvested and made into oats
  • Leaves and stems, which are called oat straw
  • Bran, the whole oat’s outer layer

As a crop, Avena sativa has a greater tolerance for lower temperatures and rain compared to other cereal grains like wheat and barley, making it accessible to people who live in wetter, cooler climates like Canada, Finland, and Sweden.

Other common names for Avena sativa include:

  • Oats
  • Avena (Spanish)
  • Hafer (German)
  • Ma-karasu-mugi (Japanese)

The Avena sativa plant is mostly grown for its seed. The seed is a major dietary source of fiber worldwide. You may have seen it rolled, steel-cut, or ground into flour. In some parts of the world, oats are used to brew beer.

Avena Sativa Parts of the Plant

Each part of the Avena sativa plant contains valuable nutrients:

  • The fresh milky seed: These are oats that are harvested early, during the “milky” stage. Early-harvested Avena sativa has the highest level of minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, and are available as a supplement.
  • The mature seed: These are eaten as food (oatmeal). Oatmeal is rich in nutrients such as silicon, manganese, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B1, B2, and E.
  • Whole oat groats: Groats are whole grains. The hulled kernels include the cereal germ, fiber-rich bran, and endosperm. Whole oat groats contain high levels of nutrients such as soluble fiber, proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals.
  • Oat straw: These are the leaves and stems of the plant, which contain very high iron levels, as well as manganese and zinc.
  • Oat beta-glucan: This soluble fiber has been linked to improving heart health and lowering cholesterol. Oat bran can be found as a whole-grain food product as well as a medicinal supplement.

The outer husk of the oat must be removed, as it is not digestible by humans.

Pure, uncontaminated oats contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. According to the FDA, this means that oats, in their natural state, are gluten-free.

Nonetheless, oat products are often cross-contaminated with other gluten-containing products during harvesting, processing, transport, and storage. People with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and gluten sensitivity may choose to avoid oats as part of a gluten-free diet.

Health Benefits

Avena sativa is a rich source of:

  • Protein, the building blocks of cells, necessary for cell growth and protection, building tissues and muscles, and reducing muscle loss
  • Minerals, for building strong bones and teeth and turning the food your eat into energy
  • Essential fats, for controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, healthy cell function, giving your body energy, regulating your temperature, and protecting your organs
  • Beta-glucan, a type of heart-healthy fiber
  • Polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates), for cardiovascular and immune health, mood and blood sugar regulation
  • Dietary fiber, for blood pressure regulation and digestive health
  • Antioxidants, to protect against free-radicals, which damage tissue cells in your body, contributing to cardiovascular and inflammatory health conditions
  • Flavonoids, saponins, and sterols, to regulate lipid (fat) density in your body

Avena Sativa Research

Avena sativa is a powerhouse of nutrients, so it's no wonder scientists look for ways to use it in medicine and disease prevention.

Digestive Health Benefits

The major active component in Avena sativa is the dietary fiber beta-glucan (β-glucan). Found in oat kernels, beta-glucan is a soluble fiber, meaning that it:

  • Regulates the consistency of stool by absorbing liquids from the digestive tract
  • Prevents the digestive process from being too fast, resulting in diarrhea, or being too slow, resulting in constipation
  • Absorbs liquids in the digestive tract, bulking the stool and reducing urgency in people with diarrhea
  • Helps your body absorb nutrients from the foods you eat

Avena sativa has a high beta-glucan content. The promising health benefits of beta-glucan make Avena sativa a valuable crop and a subject of strong medical interest.

Beta-glucan is a prebiotic, so it feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut and works to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

Numerous studies have shown that eating oats increases and diversifies healthy gut bacteria in people with and without gastrointestinal disease.

Researchers have also found evidence that oat intake improves gut permeability, which is your body’s way of absorbing other healthy nutrients from your food.

Cognitive Health Benefits

The gut brain axis is the link between your central nervous system and intestinal functions. It affects your memory, cognitive flexibility (ability to adapt to change), and attention.

A key nutrient found to benefit the gut-brain axis is dietary fiber, especially beta-glucan. Research shows that the beta-glucan fiber content in Avena sativa can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, including fatigue, headaches, and gloomy thoughts.

One 2020 study found that adults (35 to 65 years) who took oat extract for 29 days performed better on memory and multi-tasking tasks compared to adults who took a placebo. They also reacted less intensely to stress.

Avena Sativa in Traditional Medicine

European herbalists have long used Avena sativa to treat nervous and spasmodic conditions like epilepsy, depression, and Parkinson's disease. It's thought that the powerful nutrients in Avena sativa can feed and revive an exhausted nervous system.

Furthermore, several studies show that ingesting green oat extract can increase the release of the hormone dopamine, consequently leading to improvements in memory, attention, processing speed, and mood.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

For a 2014 study published in Nutrition, researchers formed two groups of post-menopausal women (ages 50-80 years). Participants were each given two oat flour cookies to eat per day; group one’s cookies contained 9.2 milligrams (mg) of oat-derived avenanthramide, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, while the cookies given to group two contained just 0.4 mg.

The participants were brought to the lab for several sessions during which they walked downhill on the treadmill in intervals.

After analyzing pre- and post-workout blood samples for signs of inflammation, researchers found that the women who supplemented with oat flour showed less signs of systemic (whole body) inflammation and acute inflammation from the downhill walk.

Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in Avena sativa may help repair muscles, reduce inflammation, and limit post-workout soreness.

Eases Withdrawal Symptoms

The antispasmodic (anti-spasm), analgesic (pain-relieving), anti-anxiety, and hypnotic (focusing) properties in Avena sativa may be therapeutic for people experiencing symptoms of morphine withdrawal.

One 2015 report states that properties in Avena sativa show potential to help people control cravings and feel less dependent on a substance. Avena sativa may also help the body detoxify.

Promotes Heart Health

Studies have found that oat beta-glucan may lower fats (lipids and lipoproteins) in the blood. Eating oatmeal and oat bran lowers total blood cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels.

In a 2016 study, oat bran as a fiber source significantly lowered lipoproteins, both total cholesterol, and LDL.

Lipoproteins are a combination of proteins and fats that move through the blood. By reducing these lipoproteins, oat bran lowered the risk of heart disease in those with mildly high cholesterol levels.

Avena sativa is thought to lower cholesterol by providing high amounts of fiber in the diet. At least 750 mg of soluble fiber per serving supports health claims of lowering the risk of heart disease.

Supports Weight Loss

In a clinical trial, study participants with similar weight classes were divided into two groups. One group was treated with beta-glucan oat cereal; the other took a placebo.

After 12 weeks, those who ate oats reduced body weight, body fat, and waist-to-hip ratio measurement. There were no adverse effects in any of the study subjects.

Anti-Diabetic Effects

Research is still not conclusive about whether oats are beneficial for blood sugar control.

Whole-grain foods like oats have been associated with lower risk of chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes. Studies have been done to explore whether long-term intake of oats or oat bran improves insulin sensitivity. However, a 2014 review of studies found no evidence that oats are effective in that capacity.

Another review of studies found oat bran beta-glucan (oat bran) had a beneficial effect on metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that can lead to diabetes or heart disease. It also had a positive effect on glycemia or glucose in the blood.

Improves Skin Health

Studies found that oatmeal preparations (such as an oatmeal bath, emollients, and oat colloidal extracts) were effective in treating inflammatory skin conditions.

These include:

  • Dermatitis (inflammation of the skin)
  • Pruritis (a condition of the skin involving itching)
  • Acne
  • Eczema (treated with dried seed decoction)

Supports Immune Function

In an in vitro study, extracts from Avena sativa were found to offer antibacterial properties against Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli, as well as other disease-causing bacteria.

Beta-glucan supports immune function by increasing levels of immunoglobulin (antibodies) and natural killer T cells, which release cytokines to kill bacteria and viruses.

Research shows that due to its antimicrobial properties and positive effects on the immune system, beta-glucan may be helpful in reducing the risk of cancer, infections, and parasitic diseases.

Possible Side Effects

Oats and Avena sativa products are considered safe for most people, including children and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Side effects of oats may include:

  • Flatulence (gas)
  • Bloating
  • Anal irritation
  • Skin irritation when oat containing products are used topically (on the skin)

To minimize side effects, start with smaller servings and gradually increase.

Contraindications

A contraindication is a specific situation where a treatment, drug, or supplement, should not be given because it may cause harm.

Contraindications for taking oat products include:

People with these conditions should talk with their healthcare provider before consuming or taking oat products.

Also, those who have IBS should avoid bran.

Special Precautions

You should be careful with eating oats if you have trouble chewing or swallowing, such as after a stroke or if you have loose teeth or ill-fitting dentures. When oats are not chewed properly, a blockage in the intestines could occur.

Oats, oat milk, oat bran

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Types of Oats as Food Sources

The best way to benefit from Avena sativa is to add more oats to your diet.

There are several types of oats available as food sources. The nutritional content is relatively the same whether the oats are cut, rolled, or ground. 

They differ in their fiber content, as well as the time it takes to prepare them.

Whole-Grain Oats

Whole grain oats are also known as whole oat groats or whole oat kernels. This type of oat food product is minimally processed. The outer (inedible) hull is removed but they still have a chewy texture and are said to taste best when eaten hot. Whole grain oats may take up to an hour to cook.

Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats are whole oat groats, but they have been cut into smaller pieces to decrease the cooking time. Instead of taking an hour to cook, steel-cut oats take only about 20 minutes.

Scottish Oats

Oats that are ground into broken pieces take only about 10 minutes to cook on high heat. Scottish oats originated in Scotland, have a creamy texture, and are perhaps the best choice for making refrigerated oats.

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats, such as the Quaker brand, are steamed and softened, then they are rolled into flakes. The processing lengthens the shelf life of the product without substantially impacting the nutritional value. They are quick to cook, taking approximately 10 minutes.

Instant Oats

Instant oats are steamed and rolled, but for a longer time than rolled oats. They are partly cooked when purchased. They have a creamy, non-chewy texture, and can be prepared quickly by adding hot water. The health benefit is close to that of rolled oats. Try to avoid the sugar-laden pre-sweetened/flavored variety of instant oats.

Oat Bran

Oat bran is very high in soluble fiber. It’s not considered a whole grain because it is comprised of just the bran layer, but it offers the health benefits of whole grain. Oat bran can be cooked in just a few minutes on the stovetop. It can also be added to other cereals, yogurt, or smoothies to increase the daily fiber content in the diet.

Infusion

Several studies involved the use of Avena sativa, which was ingested as a tea made with 3 grams of the plant, boiled in 250 milliliters (ml) of water. After straining and cooling the tea, it was taken several times each day and shortly before going to bed at night.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Avena sativa and green oat extracts are available as tinctures. A tincture of oats is made to preserve the potency of the plant. A few drops of the tincture in your mouth or in a healthy drink can deliver a high volume of nutrients.

Oat bran products should be taken along with plenty of water to ensure good distribution of the fiber in the digestive system.

When purchasing supplements from the Avena sativa plant, look for organic, all-natural, and certified to ensure purity and potency. The certification should be from a third-party organization, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.com.

If it’s possible, check to see that an oat product, such as milky oats, has been harvested at the right time in the plant’s growth stage. This is important for getting a product that has therapeutic, health-boosting properties.

Avena Sativa Dosage

Research shows that dosages of 800 to 1600 mg per day of oat straw extract seems to be most effective. But it’s important to note that dosage amounts can vary depending on your age, the product you are using, and your purpose for using it.

More human studies are needed before official dosage amounts can be recommended. As a general rule, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement or extract and always use a product as directed according to its packaging.

Summary

Oats from the Avena sativa plant have been shown in studies to have health benefits. These include lowering cholesterol, helping reduce weight, and improving heart health. Some people should avoid oats, such as those with celiac disease or intestinal obstructions.

Various types of oats are available for different tastes. The main differences in products are the amount of fiber and the cooking time needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can oats be eaten raw?

    Yes, soaking raw oats overnight in any type of milk (for example, cow’s milk or a nut milk such as almond, cashew, or coconut) in the refrigerator will soften them enough to be eaten. One cup of milk to one cup of oats is a good ratio. Overnight oats can be flavored and enhanced with fresh or dried fruit, raw or roasted nuts or seeds, nut butter, fresh coconut, granola, spices, orange zest, or vanilla extract.

  • What nutrients are in oat milk?

    One cup (8 ounces) of unsweetened oat milk contains:

    • 120 calories
    • 3g protein
    • 16g carbohydrates
    • 5g fat
    • 1.9g fiber

    Most brands are fortified with calcium, vitamins A and D, and riboflavin. Oat milk tends to have a bit more fiber than other plant-based milks.

  • When can babies begin eating oats?

    Babies usually can start eating oatmeal as soon as the pediatrician gives the OK to start solid foods—typically around 6 months but no earlier than 4 months.

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Additional Reading

By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.